Nuclear-Free Future

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18 October 2007

Defenders of the Black Hills

The moment Charmaine White Face, an Oglala tribe member enrolled at the Pine Ridge Reservation, mentions the He Sapa, her voice becomes tender, as if she were relating some story about her children. He Sapa are the Black Hills, the rugged string of mountains ranging across South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming in the region that is the traditional homeland of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota nations (since frontier days known to the white man collectively as the ‘Sioux’ or ‘Great Sioux Nation’).

Wamakas og’naka i’cante – “the heart of everything that is”, words that Charmaine White Face feels most profoundly about her homeland. Five years ago, together with some likeminded friends, she founded the organization, ‘Defenders of the Black Hills’. The group monitors abandoned uranium mines on sacred lands and seeks the remediation of hazardous waste ponds that contaminate the region with high levels of radium-226, arsenic, lead and iron. In performing this mission, Charmaine and the Defenders not only work for the good health of Grandmother Earth and all living things, but also towards upholding Article VI of the Constitution of the United States, which states that: “treaties are the supreme law of the land.”


“The Black Hills are not for sale. You cannot put a price on what is sacred.”


In 1868 the government in Washington entered into a treaty with the Great Sioux Nation, awarding them custody of the Black Hills ‘so long as the sun rises, so long as the grass grows, and so long as the rivers flow.’ Two years later gold was discovered on Sioux land and the treaty was trampled beneath the feet of lawless prospectors. One hundred years later uranium was discovered, and the U.S. government, while pretending regret over the land grabs of the past, transferred the 1870-worth of the 5 million appropriated acres to a bank account for the tribes. The idea was to give the greedy mayhem of yesteryear some semblance of judicial standing. The answer from the reservations: ‘The Black Hills are not for sale. You cannot put a price on what is sacred.’The tribes have never touched the government money.


As Charmaine and the Defenders seek to increase the public’s awareness of recent South Dakota legislation that allows in situ leaching and nuclear power plants anywhere in state, the group’s central message is that not just the Lakota, but all of us are in trouble: aquifers cover massive areas of the continent, rivers empty into one another, radioactive dust is carried by the wind, and poisons in the soil nourish grass and feed crops that eventually work their way into the mainstream food chain. The equation of life for Charmaine, the Defenders, and many of the Lakota living in the Black Hills: Metakuye Oyasin – “we are all related.”


–Craig Reishus